Monday, August 17, 2009

Greg Eow: I used to be a fan of Bernard Lewis and the Neocons

H/T to FJ by way of Mondoweiss 8.13.09 for this wonderful email showing that, with some effort, time and money --and, btw, an open mind -- people's views of the Israeli-Palestinian issue can change to better reflect reality. Come to think of it, it happened to me despite my years of yeshiva indoctrination and it didn't cost all that much, and I didn't even have to read 20 books on the subject.

One can get cheered up after reading an example of such change, but all too soon one is brought back to reality to realize that the siege of Gaza and the starvation of the Gazans is ongoing. The slow genocide and the removal of the Palestinians from their land is occurring with the full knowledge of Sec Clinton and President Obama who either don't care or prefer not to risk political capital trying unsuccessfully to "interfere" with Israeli policy.


I was with the neocons– (Then I went to the Middle East)
by Greg Eow
August 13, 2009

Mondoweiss wrote:

In April, Greg Eow wrote a letter to a professor he had met in graduate school at Rice University, Ussama Makdisi, describing his political transformation. Eow. . . shares it with us.

Dear Professor Makdisi,

I don’t know if you rem ember me, but I finished my PhD in the Rice history department in 2007. I was one of Thomas Haskell’s students. We ran into each other a handful of times, including once when I helped you with some of the microfilm machines in Fondren Library. Anyway, this is a strange e-mail, both to write and most likely to receive. But I wanted to tell you about some recent experiences which have profoundly changed my view of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You have demonstrated an interest in changing how people think about the issue, and so I thought you might be interested in what for me has turned out to be a transformative event.

First of all, a quick word about presuppositions. I confess that I previously never paid a great deal of attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Insofar as I did follow the issue, my sympathies were with neoconservatives. Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis were my guides. They were realists, I would tell myself, whereas those who quarreled with them, for instance colleagues at Rice who were more interested in postcolonial studies than I, had political axes to grind. Not for me the romance of resistance. I was a good skeptic, an empiricist; and if there was a problem in Israel it was clear to me it had to do wi th Muslim fundamentalism, terrorism, and the clash between Enlightenment values and democracy on the one hand and premodern tribalism and totalitarianism on the other.

Flash forward a couple of years.
I’m through with grad school, I finally have some time and money, and I embark on a self-directed course of study on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have my feelings, sure, but I realize that I don’t know a whole lot, that a lot of smart people disagree with me, and now I want to make a good faith effort to learn about the issue and test my prejudices against the scholarship in the field. I read Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said, Benny Morris, Patrick Seale, David Fromkin, Juan Cole, Efraim Karsh, Tom Segev, William Cleveland, Bernard Rougier, Albert Hourani. I read your book and article on anti-Americanism. And I spend two weeks traveling through Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem and the West Bank. In sum, I read about forty books from a number of different standpoints and travel through the region to see what is going on with my own eyes.

The result? Well, the whole experience essentially knocked me on my butt. I was wrong about a great many things. And not just wrong but deeply wrong. Wrong to a degree that to realize it has left me shaken, wondering how exactly I got to be so intellectually, and in this case morally, obtuse. Just a taste of the data that undid my worldview:

1) The Arab people I met in Syria, Lebanon and the West Bank (and Jerusalem), the vast majority of them Muslims, were almost uniformly lovely, warm, and welcoming. I wasn’t expecting20passersby in the street in all of these places to invite me into their homes for tea to discuss how much they "hate George Bush, but like Americans." (This happened too often to count.) Pretty much everyone thought U.S. policy was a disaster. But they were angry about policy and lovely to me in ways that make the "they hate us for our freedom" line not only inaccurate but criminal. Among the people I met: a 20 year old Shiite Muslim named Mohammed whom I met in the Bequaa Valley. Mohammed supports Hezbollah because of their 1) resistance to Israeli incursions into Lebanon (he didn’t say anything about Hezbollah provocations), 2) their welfare programs, and 3) their support of the20Palestinian cause (all his words). He’s been to Mosque no more than twice in his life, eats pork, and likes nothing more than going dancing in Beirut. That is to say, he is entirely secular. With Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington as my guides, I have no way to make sense of such an encounter.

2) Driving through the West Bank at night allows one to see the proliferation of illegal Israeli settlements with immediate and striking force. They are everywhere, some small, some huge, in the high ground lit up like prisons. I thought the reason why the two-state solution had failed was Palestinian intransigence. A look at the settlements – even a quick look – demolishes such a simple explanation. Traveling through the West Bank at=2 0night, and later visiting and talking with people in Ramallah, reinforced an essential point: Israel, at least powerful forces within Israel, is actively pursuing policies to colonize and annex the West Bank while simultaneously making life so difficult for Palestinians that they will pick up and leave. The evidence was there for anyone with eyes to see, irrefutable and horrible in its obviousness. How I got duped by the "Israel wants peace behind the 1 967 borders but extremists deny it to them" line is a question I will be asking myself again and again with embarrassment and not a little shame.

I could go on, but this (unsolicited) e-mail has gone on long enough and you get the point. What I’m saying is this: keep writing, keep telling U.S. citizens to better inform themselves about what is going on in their name and with their tax dollars. If they’re honest, and they go see for themselves what’s going on, I can guarantee that the reasonableness of what you and others have written on the matter will soon become apparent.


Anonymous said...

Please remember that mondoweiss bans dissent. That is not their official policy, but it is there actual policy. What you read from them could easily contain misinformation and outright lies which would not be objected to in the comments section. Read and post there if you like, but never forget that it is a propaganda site, not a source of true and accurate information about what is going on in Israel and the Palestinian cities.

Ronald said...

Thanks, Anon. It'd be interesting to know if you're coming from a Zionist or a Left position.

Anonymous said...

I'm the same anonymous as above.

I am coming from a position that says that if Israel ever gets the choice of trading the West Bank and Gaza for peace they should do it. Abandon the settlements in exchange for peace.

I also think that until such a trade is offered, the Israelis have a right to keep building the settlements, though a freeze in the West Bank for 6 months might be wise.

The Palestinians have been quite clear and unwavering that they will not make peace without the "right of return" to Israel. Since that means the end of Israel, and the Israelis know it, I think no peace is possible.

Thus, the Israelis' option is not "status quo" versus "land for peace" it is "status quo" versus "Israel ceases to exist".

If you come up with a way to negotiate with someone whose minumum acceptable terms are that you die, let me know.


Ronald said...

Thanks, Thom, for following up.
So you're a Zionist. That's OK, we all have our own poison. Mine's human rights and the golden rule.

The question about differing ideologies is which allows the greatest amount of truth and light.

For example, in my yeshivas nothing was said about the 750,000 Palestinians made refugees by the Israelis in 1948, the 400,000 more in 1967, not to mention the 90,000 Syrians forced out of the Golan Heights. (By 1967 -- although I was still a Zionist, I had already graduated my yeshiva high school years before, but my guess is that no more information about the Palestinian was taught or is taught today.)

Nor were we taught that the Israelis refused to allow the Palestinians to return to their homes and businesses and farmss, even though their return was a condition of their acceptance into the UN.(But this condition was waived or ignored.)

Nor were we taught about the thousands of men of martial age who were summarily shot by the Israelis when captured.

For example, on my website there are a few photos of the Palestinian refugees that have been made public that were taken by Israeli (or Yishuv) soldiers.

If you check out the pictures, you will find only women and children -- no men.

I could continue for example with your argument:

If you come up with a way to negotiate with someone whose minumum acceptable terms are that you die, let me know.

But I'll wait for your reply.

Anonymous said...

As for the pictures, they show refugees. Nothing in them proves or even suggests the accompanying propaganda about the men being summarily executed. I have pictures of my mother and sisters without my father and me in them, so I guess we must have been taken out and shot. Oh, wait, no, we just weren't in those particular pictures.

And BS you are about human rights. Israel has a better human rights record than any other country in the Middle East, yet you focus your attacks on Israel.

The Syrians probably should have considered the possible consequences of losing when they fired artillery from the Golan heights at the civilians in Israel.

Some of the Arabs in Israel weren't attacking and got caught up in the general expulsion, but others were helping the Arab armies try to exterminate the Jews.

They started a war to exterminate the Jews and the Jews won, then they tried to say "just kidding" and demanded the land they lost in the war that they started. "Boo-hoo, the Jews we were trying to kill took our land".

But regardless of what happened in the past, the question is, how can there be peace?

Even if you think the Israelis should place their heads in the guillotine and let the Palestinians pull the lever because they kicked out most of the Arabs when the Arabs attacked them, the Israelis aren't willing to be exterminated.

So exactly what peace terms do you think there are that would be acceptable to the Palestinians and the Israelis? Whoever is right or wrong, peace only comes with mutually acceptable terms.


Ronald said...

Dear Thom;
Thanks for responding.

Apologies for this tardy response. If it’s helpful, and you like to give me your email –you can do so privately by writing to can alert you to future responses.)

First, yes, you’re right that the pictures are only circumstantial evidence that thousands of Palestinian men were summarily executed when 750,000 or more were forced out of their homes and villages and farms and businesses in 1948-49 and never allowed to return contrary to the Geneva Conventions. The pictures by themselves don’t prove the case. To prove the case, one has to seek corroborating evidence.

And you’re right, in many cases, the circumstances were such where it was impossible for the Israelis to kill all the men of age. One such occasion is related by Audeh Rantisi (author of “Blessed are the Peacemakers: The Story of a Palestinian Christian) when, in July 1948, as an 11 year old child, he and his family were expelled by force from Lydda (now Lod) along with perhaps 40,000 or more other Palestinians. In that case, his father and other men weren’t shot, one surmises, because executions on that scale weren’t practical – and also for political reasons. The great bulk of these killings were done under the radar of the West and with as little documentation as possible.

Rantisi and his family were forced on a “death march” as he calls it in the middle of the summer heat. He and his family made it to Ramallah. But many others weren’t so lucky. In one anecdote, he relates that in the evenings, after the day’s march, the Israelis forced the refugees to give up their money and the rest of their portable valuables. In one case that he observed a young man who objected to giving up his valuables was shot.

Other accounts of the expulsions detail the manner in which villages were emptied. One tactic was to murder an Arab farmer or two at night, surround the village and leave one road free for the villagers to flee.

Also other accounts tell of the Israeli or Yishuv soldiers rounding up the men of martial age, shooting them and evicting the women and children and older folk.
(see below for continuation)

Ronald said...

Regarding Israel’s human rights record, I suspect that you’re right with regard to Israel’s Jewish citizens. But what about Israel’s non Jewish citizens? Do you make the same claim that Israel holds a positive human rights record for the million Palestinian citizens of Israel and the 4-5 million or more in the Occupied Territories and Gaza.

Can you imagine the uproar if some country were to keep large numbers of Jews under decades long military occupation?

Yet, it’s true that in Arab countries, governments often treat their own citizens and their Palestinian residents more harshly then Israel generally treats its own Jewish citizens.

But it may be useful to unpack how much of this harsher treatment is directly attributable to Israel. For example in Jordan, Egypt and Syria many militants are jailed and tortured because the government fears that otherwise they will be involved in anti Israel actions – even (or especially) non violent activities. The Arab governments act severely because of Israel’s inclination for harsh and non discriminatory retaliation. A well known example is the Qibya massacre of 1953 led by Ariel Sharon.

You write:

The Syrians probably should have considered the possible consequences of losing when they fired artillery from the Golan heights at the civilians in Israel.

This points to another widely held Israeli myth. Moshe Dayan himself debunked this “official story.” What really happened is that under the pretext of police forces, the Israelis would bring soldiers and armoured vehicles to the demilitarized zone below the Heights to force out the Syrian farmers who by the terms of agreements were allowed to farm their land near Israeli farms. Such incursions were occasionally and ineffectively met by desultory shelling by the Syrians from the Golan Heights to try and protect their people. These incidents had nothing to do with the capture of the Golan Heights in 1967, but were later successfully used as justification for Israel’s land grab and the expulsion of more than 90,000 people.

By the way, Lyndon Johnson explicitly warned Israel not to attack the Golan Heights during the 1967 War since Syria had not entered the war. Some (including me) theorize that the reason that the Israelis attacked and tried (unsuccessfully) to sink the U.S. intelligence ship, the Liberty, the day before the attack on the Golan Heights was because the Israelis understood that the Liberty could monitor Israeli communications in real time and so would be able to document the Israeli attack.

Ronald said...

You write:

Some of the Arabs in Israel weren't attacking and got caught up in the general expulsion, but others were helping the Arab armies try to exterminate the Jews.

I appreciate your acknowledgment that some Arabs “weren’t attacking” and so presumably were legitimate refugees. You continue: “helping the Arab armies try to exterminate the Jews.”

But this is also myth. The strongest of the Arab armies was Jordan and Jordan from the beginning was always collaborating with Israel. In early 1948 Jordan and the Yishuv leadership came close to an agreement where Jordan would recognize the November 1947 UN Partition Resolution in return for allowing Jordan control of the West Bank. (In the last of these failed negotiations, Gilda Meir disguised herself as a man in order to pass through Jordanian checkpoints.) Thus Jordan was prepared not to go to war if an agreement could be reached.

So why was there a 1948 war? Basically because the Yishuv/Israeli leadership, led by Ben Gurion understood that without war, the UN Partition agreement would have left about half a million Palestinians in the new state of Israel, resulting in an approximately 50-50 split of Jews and non Jews. In that case it would have been more difficult to discriminate against the Arabs, not to mention steal their land etc.

There was also the other matter of the 300,000 Palestinians that Israel had already expelled before May 14, 1948, from the north, places like Haifa, Safed, and elsewhere, such as in West Jerusalem (among whom was Edward Said and his family) as the British left those areas to the tender mercies of the Jews.

Had the Israelis made an agreement with Jordan for peace instead of war, the new state of Israel would have had to allow a great majority of them to return to their homes, their farms, their businesses. Who knows, they might have had to pay reparations as well.

There was a huge amount of publicity attendant on these 300,000 refugees even in the West and there was strong political pressure to do something about them. But war solved such problems. Behind the screen of war Israel could essentially ignore the pre May 14, 1948 refugees and continue to “cleanse” the area allotted to it by the UN of the bulk of the remaining Arabs.

Ronald said...

There was a political price to pay for such crimes and that price was presumably the reason that Ben Gurion decided not to complete the process of expelling Palestinians by conquering the West Bank and Gaza which by 1949 was within their military capacity. Indeed in later years Ben Gurion said he regretted not doing so, conveniently forgetting the political pressures and requirements of the time and Israel’s need for international support. (Even today, historian Benny Morris has the same lapse in memory.)

The notion of Israel fighting to keep from being thrown into the sea would be laughable were it not so tragic since this is literally what happened to many Arabs in Haifa and figuratively what happened to the original Palestinian residents.

You write:

But regardless of what happened in the past

Yes, this is exactly what many apologists for Zionism often say to continue their argument. It’s almost as if they understood on some level the continuing injustice is being done to so many of the people they continue to oppress.

You write:

So exactly what peace terms do you think there are that would be acceptable to the Palestinians and the Israelis? Whoever is right or wrong, peace only comes with mutually acceptable terms.

There are two approaches to this very good question. One is from the perspective of justice: the way the conflict would be adjudicated if there were a level playing field and the other is in the real world where Israel’s military, financial and political power is backed up by the United States. (We can leave the EU and Russia out of this discussion for now.)

Ronald said...

If it were a level playing field, the answer would be simple: agree to a unified state of Israel/Palestine, one that gives equal rights to all its citizens. Allow the same right of return to Arabs as we do to Jews from all over the world. As part of such an agreement there would naturally be compensation to the Palestinians for their losses –including wrongful deaths –- to the tune of two or three hundred billion dollars if not more – and we’ll all live happily ever after.

But back to the real world. Again it’s useful to quote you.

Even if you think the Israelis should place their heads in the guillotine and let the Palestinians pull the lever because they kicked out most of the Arabs when the Arabs attacked them, the Israelis aren't willing to be exterminated.

Once again there are two ways to take such statements regarding the extermination of Israel. One is literally. People of my persuasion are tempted to ask in this context: what planet are you living on? Isn’t Israel the fourth largest military power and aren’t the Palestinians perhaps among the weakest and most powerless people in the world?

Moreover, if we just compare how many Palestinians (and Lebanese, and Syrian and Egyptian, and Iraqi people Israel has already killed with the number of Israelis killed). If we compare the numbers of tanks, F-15s and other jet fighters, helicopter gunships, trained men (and women) in the armed forces possessed by either side, the numbers of houses demolished, the hundreds of thousands of dunams (quarter acres) of olive trees destroyed, the numbers of Palestinian activists and high ranking politicians assassinated; the 50% or more of all Palestinian men who have been jailed and perhaps 20% or more of those tortured, and many other relevant indicators, an outside observer might well wonder where the idea that the Palestinians are in position to exterminate the Israelis is coming from.

One can make a guess that the language and the willingness to leave the possibility on the table comes from some awareness of victim and victimizer.

One can imagine that supporters of Zionism, the ideology that a Jewish state should replace the former Palestine can well understand that those whose necks are crushed by the oppressor harbor ill will to those whose boots pin them to the floor.

But there is a difference between political understanding and political power. For example, I count myself as one of scores of millions of Americans who wished for regime change during the 8 years of the Bush-Cheney presidency. And if it were up to many like me, impeachment proceedings would have been instituted long ago.

Similarly, many Zionists deliberately or otherwise muddy the difference between the politics of many Palestinians and their power. And Zionist propaganda is so successful that it hides from many that the terror Israelis fear from Palestinians is precisely that which they are implementing against the Palestinians.